Buying guide: 2012 Macs

To connect a display, you can use the HDMI port or the Thunderbolt port. You might have to buy an adapter if your display doesnt have HDMI or Mini DisplayPort (which connects to the Mac mini's Thunderbolt port). If you own a display with VGA and/or DVI output, you need either the Mini DisplayPort-to-VGA Adapter or the Mini DisplayPort-to-DVI Adapter, which each cost $29.

How fast is it? The Mac mini wont set any speed records. The $599 Mac mini is the second-slowest Mac in Apples current lineup. The $799 Mac mini is 25% faster than the $599 modela significant boost. Regardless, dont let the performance turn you away from the Mac mini. For general use and for editing of short videos, the Mac mini does just fine.

Macworlds buying advice: For new Mac users switching from a PC, the Mac mini is an excellent machine. Its a great choice for shoppers on a budget, or for someone who wants a second computer in the home. It handles everyday usage well. If, however, you want to use a Mac as a production machine for video editing or some other task that requires processing power, consider an iMac.

Read our complete review of the Mac mini (Late 2012)

iMac

What is it? The iMac is Apples iconic all-in-one computer. Made of aluminum, the iMac has a built-in display and looks stately as it sits on your desk. It also offers top-notch performance.

Whos it for? The iMac is great for both novices and demanding users. It can handle general-purpose and heavy-duty tasks equally well. Its also ideal for someone who is conscious about their workspace, or someone who needs to buy a complete computer setup (keyboard, mouse or trackpad, and display).

What are the specifications? Four iMac models are currently available. Two of the models have 21.5-inch displays, while the other two have 27-inch displays. All iMacs come standard with 8GB of memory and a 1TB hard drive.

The 21.5-inch $1299 iMac has a 2.7GHz quad-core Core i5 processor and an Nvidia GeForce GT 640M graphics processor with 512MB of video memory. The 21.5-inch $1499 iMac includes a 2.9GHz quad-core Core i5 processor and an Nvidia GeForce GT 650M graphics processor with 512MB of video memory.

You cant upgrade the 21.5-inch iMac after you buy it, so you might want to pay an extra $200 for a memory upgrade to 16GB. The $1499 iMac also offers a Fusion Drive upgrade for $250, and a 3.1GHz quad-core Core i7 upgrade for $200. (The $1299 version doesnt have a Fusion Drive or processor upgrade.)

The 27-inch $1799 iMac provides a 2.9GHz quad-core Core i5 processor and an Nvidia GeForce GT 660M graphics processor with 512MB of video memory. The $1999 iMac has a 3.2GHz quad-core Core i5 processor and an Nvidia GeForce GT 675MX graphics processor with 1GB of video memory. Both 27-inch models offer Fusion Drive or flash storage upgrades. Another option for the $1999 model is an upgrade to a 3.4GHz quad-core Core i7 CPU for $200.

On the 27-inch iMac, you can upgrade the RAM easily. The machine has four RAM slots, accessible through the back. Apple installs the standard 8GB as a pair of 4GB memory modules, so you can add more RAM after you buy the system. If you prefer, you can upgrade the RAM at the point of purchase to 16GB ($200) or 32GB ($600).

The iMac comes with Apples Wireless Keyboard and Magic Mouse. If you order online from the Apple Store, however, you can switch the keyboard to a wired version with a numeric keypad, and switch the mouse to an Apple Mouse or a Magic Trackpad, for no extra fee. You can opt for both a Magic Mouse and a Magic Trackpad for $69.

The iMac does not have an optical drive. If you want to read or burn CDs and DVDs, you need to buy an external USB optical drive.

How do I connect stuff? Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are built-in. All iMacs have four USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt ports, a gigabit ethernet port, and an SDXC card slot.

If you want to connect a FireWire device, you need to use a Thunderbolt-to-FireWire Adapter. USB 2.0 devices can connect to the iMacs USB 3.0 ports.

How fast is it? The iMacs are among Apples fastest computers. The $1499 iMac runs neck-and-neck with the $2499 quad-core 3.2GHz Mac Pro. The $1299 iMac provides a significant boost over the Mac mini. If you decide to get a 21.5-inch iMac with a Fusion Drive, the processor upgrade to a 3.1GHz Core i7 CPU, and 16GB of RAM, youll have a machine thats blazing fastit's the second-fastest Mac weve tested so far.

Unfortunately, we cant speak about the performance of the standard-configuration 27-inch iMac models. Apple is taking orders on these models, but they wont be available for several weeks. (As of this writing, Apple says that orders placed now will not be available until January 2013.) Well post a review of the 27-inch iMac as soon as possible.

We can, however, talk about the performance of a built-to-order 27-inch iMac with a 3.4GHz quad-core Core i5 processor upgrade, Nvidia GeForce GTX 680MX graphics with 2GB of video memory, and a Fusion Drive. This iMac is the fastest Mac weve tested, though such a configuration will set you back $2599.

Macworlds buying advice: For new Mac owners, the $1299 iMac is a good alternative to the Mac mini, providing a nice performance boost. If performance is your top priority, consider the Fusion Drive upgrades, or even the processor options. Also, if you want a 21.5-inch iMac, the 8GB of RAM should be fine, but buying the RAM upgrade at the point of purchase could save you some hassle in the future. The 27-inch iMacs are ideal for demanding users who need as much speed as they can get.

If you already have an iMac thats less than three years old, the new iMac may be a harder sell. Youll see a performance boost, but youll sacrifice some features, such as the SuperDrive.

Read our complete review of the 21.5-inch iMac (Late 2012)

Mac Pro

What is it? The Mac Pro is Apples workstation. Its meant for professionals who need flexibility with the machine itself.

Whos it for? The Mac Pro is ideal for professionals who use applications that are designed to employ as many processing cores as possiblevideo-editing applications, image-editing software, 3D programs, and the like. The Mac Pro is also good for people who need to use expansion cards, or who want a Mac thats capable of holding more than one internal drive.

What are the specifications? You'll find two standard-configuration models. The $2499 Mac Pro has a 3.2GHz quad-core Xeon processor and 6GB of memory. The $3799 Mac Pro provides two 2.4GHz six-core Xeon processors (for a total of 12 processing cores) and 12GB of memory. Both models include a 1TB hard drive, a SuperDrive, and ATI Radeon HD 5770 graphics hardware with 1GB of video memory.

What makes the Mac Pro appealing is its build-to-order options. You can add up to 32GB of memory, upgrade to a hard drive with more capacity, upgrade to a solid-state drive, add multiple drives, and more. The Mac Pro also has PCI expansion slots.

How do I connect stuff? The Mac Pro provides a lot of connectivity optionsthough not necessarily the most up-to-date offerings. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are built in. Although the Mac Pro has USB 2.0 (five ports), it does not offer USB 3.0. The machine has four FireWire 800 ports, and two gigabit ethernet jacks. Audio professionals should know that the Mac Pro has optical digital audio input and output TOSLINK ports.

The Mac Pro is the only Mac that Apple offers without Thunderbolt.

How fast is it? Mac Pro models excel when running software that takes advantage of multiple processing cores, such as high-end video-editing programs, 3D graphics applications, image editors, professional audio software, and so on. But with general, everyday tasks (emailing, Web browsing, and running office applications), the iMac and the Retina MacBook Pro outperform the Mac Pro.

Macworlds buying advice: Do you absolutely need to buy a Mac Pro now? You might be better off waiting until later in 2013. Apple CEO Tim Cook says that the company is working on something really great, which seems to hint at a total revamp of the Mac Pro.

If you do need one now, carefully consider what you plan to do with the machine. If you are doing professional work and require hardware flexibility, the Mac Pro will serve you well. If youre a power user who edits video while also performing general tasks, consider an iMac or a Retina MacBook Pro.

Read our complete review of the Mac Pro

This story, "Buying guide: 2012 Macs" was originally published by Macworld.

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